Last week a multi-year campaign to let the public use Congress’ resources paid off.
On Thursday, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced House and Senate versions of the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act of 2016 (Open CRS Act; H.R. 4702 and S. 2639). The Open CRS Act aims to publicly release the renowned legislative research products produced by the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service (CRS).
CRS works exclusively for Congress. Its researchers respond to policy and legal questions from Members of Congress and their staff. CRS reports are not released to the public, but Congressional offices can do whatever they want with non-confidential reports that they receive. In fact, a 1998 Senate Rules Committee memo encouraged members to use their own websites to share reports.
Most Members of Congress and their offices don’t publish the CRS reports they receive, but many circulate them informally. As a result, most major CRS reports trickle out to well-connected interest groups, but not most taxpayers.
The Open CRS Act changes that. The bill directs the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to publish all major, non-confidential CRS reports. The Open CRS Act would provide a long-overdue reform to an awkward system of proprietary materials and leaked reports.
The Open CRS Act isn’t just about publishing the reports. It’s an open data mandate, too, because it requires that CRS content be available for bulk download and maintained in both human and “structured data format.”
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